The numbers game

As a relatively new Celtic fan — only four seasons still makes me a neophyte in the grand scheme of Hoops history — one of the things that, at least to me, has always ranged from a mild mystery to a downright conundrum is the club’s assigning of player numbers.

This observation first occurred to me while I was still grieving the departure of Mikael Lustig, who had sadly moved on from Celtic to KAA Gent, before ending up now at AIK in Stockholm. His number 23 went immediately to a new acquisition at the time, Boli Bolingoli. I thought it was odd that the number of a beloved Celt would be transferred so quickly, but I guess it is par for the course in the football world.

You move on, and your number is up for grabs, apparently. It’s as simple as that.

Or is it? Is there more to it than meets the eye, a certain metaphysical reason behind a player ending up wearing the number of a legend?

This number 8, Kyogo Furuhashi, has the monumental task of filling the legacy of the previous number 8, Scott Brown. History is on his side, because Brown admirably filled the legacy of a previous number 8, Paul McStay. Photo credit: The Celtic Star

We have a new number 8 who replaces a recently departed number 8 — departed in a football sense, that is. Little has been said about Kyogo Furuhashi inheriting Scott Brown’s number. On the surface there may seem to be few similarities between the two, but if you look back the Hoops legend from Dunfermline and the new kid from Nara may be more alike than meets the eye, primarily and most importantly, both are quick and good with the ball. Also, it can be argued that Brown inherited the number from another Celtic legend, Paul McStay, and Brown admirably filled the legacy of that Hoops great.

We could go on and on about this, because examples here are plentiful: Liel Abada’s number 11 runs through the scenic route of the retraced steps of Scott Sinclair back to Bobby Lennox, while the number 5 has a magical and mystical significance insofar as the last player to wear it, Jozo Simunovic, scored after 67 minutes in a game honouring the greatest number 5 to play in green-and-white, Billy McNeill.

Then there’s the iconic number 7: Last worn with historical significance by the King of Kings, Henrik Larsson, but with a lineage that goes back to the greatest of all Celts, Jimmy Johnstone.

Josip Juranovic or Gary Hooper? Time will tell . . . Photo credit: The Celtic Star

Today, photos of new Celtic acquisition Josip Juranovic have the new player wearing number 88, that of a Celtic historic goal-scoring magician, Gary Hooper. During his time with Celtic, Hooper — who is still playing in Australia — was an exciting player to watch, and it remains to be seen whether the magic of the number rubs off on the Croatian defender joining Celtic from Legia Warsaw.

This magic sometimes transfers — Brown to Furuhashi seems, at least so far, to be proof of that.

But sometimes it doesn’t — Lustig to Bolingoli being Exhibit A here, to say nothing of Albian Ajeti’s number 10, with a pedigree that spans the timeline through Moussa Dembele, Jan Vennegor of Hesselink, John Hartson, Tommy Burns, and Bertie Auld.

You can say it’s only a number, but fate, superstition and the football gods may have other intentions. No one knows for sure.

Nevertheless, on Thursday we have the second leg against Alkmaar Zaanstreek — AZ to the cool kids — away in the Netherlands, bringing with us a 2-o advantage from last week’s Europa League match at Parkhead.

Mon the Hoops!

News flash: We’re still in it

I hate to disagree with Chris Sutton or John Hartson or just about anyone else who thinks we’re done for this year, but I don’t think Celtic are out of the hunt for 10 in a row just yet.

Sure, the odds are becoming longer with every performance like today’s — we’ll get back to that in a minute — but as long as there is a mathematical chance for Celtic to catch and pass Glasgow’s other club, then we are technically still in it.

Of course, we can’t beat ourselves like we did today. Let’s be clear: Glasgow’s other club, only 9 years old next month and constantly teetering on the edge of financial ruin, did not win today’s game so much as Celtic lost it. Bad enough that the score ended up the way it did, but how it happened is the real tragedy, namely an own-goal.

Regardless, a gaffe or two aside, Celtic played a great game today, keeping their opponent on the back foot for most of the game. It bodes well for the rest of the season since the club is firing on all cylinders and all we need is to get some of those shots to hit the back of the net.

To be sure, we are going to need help — a lot of it — from the rest of the teams in the Premiership going forward. Also, there will be a lot of scoreboard watching involved from here on in, which leaves us in the unenviable position of putting undeserved faith in league backmarkers such as Motherwell and Ross County to help bail us out.

But as baseball great Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” The lead is there for the first-place team to squander as we head to the second half of the season.

Keep the faith.

KR Reykjavik: More questions than answers

Sometimes a victory like the one against KR Reykjavik on Tuesday at Celtic Park — a 6-0 scorefest which had the Hoops uncharacteristically leading comfortably at the half — provides more questions than answers going forward in both the regular season as well as the UEFA Champions rounds.

Regardless, we advance in the first round of the UEFA Champions qualifying round, and in the way Celtic played after, well, a forced hiatus, the Hoops have put everyone on notice.

Here are the takeaways — some of them questions — from the game on Tuesday:

Elhamed and Bitton: Could they be starters?

With the absence of the both Jonny Hayes and Jozo Simunovic and the precariously prickly position it puts the club on the defensive end, the wailing and gnashing of teeth around acquiring a center-back has risen to a deafening cresendo. So we may have had a look at the future on Tuesday with Neil Lennon playing Hatem Elhamed and Nir Bitton in the backfield, to resounding success. Elhamed was consistent all game on both ends of the pitch and Bitton kept the door locked, rhetorically speaking, on our end of the pitch, even at one point making a goal-saving play late in the game against a breaking RK Reykjavik player bearing down on Vasilis Barkas. Of course, the question arises: “Oh, my days! What do we do with Jeremie Frimpong?” That, of course is a valid question, and it would be hard to ascertain which of the two get the playing time.

This is something for the coaches to decide, obviously, but maybe the playing time will be divided up by situation. Or the pair can play rock-paper-scissors before the game and the winner starts.

A Hatem Elhamed cross early in the 2nd half led to a goal by Greg Taylor, right, making it 4-0 Celtic in Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League qualifying round game against KR Reykjavik at Celtic Park. It was Taylor’s first goal as a Celt and his second career goal overall.

Is Greg Taylor a scoring machine?

Greg Taylor had one of his typical Greg Taylor games — he took the ball down the pitch on multiple occasions and crossed the ball, most of the time, or passed back when nothing was available up front. It is great to see the Hoops get the ball down the pitch so quickly, and in large part we have The Greenock Kid to thank for that. But what we didn’t expect, and it delights those of us who have warmed to his presence at Celtic, is that early in the 2nd half, Taylor did the unthinkable — he scored. Not only that, he scored on a header. It was his 2nd career goal, and his first with Celtic, so this could change the playmaking calculus of the squad if Greg Taylor the assist king becomes Greg Taylor the scoring threat.

Or it was just a fluke. The jury’s still out on that one.

No question: Odsonne Edouard is unstoppable

Not a question this time, just fact: Edouard spends a ton of time being double-, triple-, and quadruple-teamed and under many of those circumstances, he may not succeed in finding the net. But — and this is a big “but” — when he does manage to break away, he is lethal. We saw that in the first half where Eddy forced an own-goal on a hapless RK Reykjavik defender trying to cover him. And in the 2nd half, Odsonne waltzed — literally — between five defenders to find room to take a successful shot shortly before going off for the rest of the game. This prompted John Hartson to say that it added 5 million pounds to Eddy’s value for EPL clubs, which came back in a post-game discussion with Gordon Strachan on Celtic TV that turned into a rising disagreement just prior to Neil Lennon’s postgame interview.

Which brings up the question . . .

Gordon Strachan or John Hartson?

Celtic TV had both Gordon Strachan and John Hartson on the air for the game on Tuesday. Now I can see that if you’re on the air with your former boss, you might be a little intimidated, but I thought Hartson did his usual good job of analysis overall during the game, and from what I’ve seen on Gordon Strachan — mostly in interviews and in his extended role in the “Broony” DVD — his presence is a pleasant and welcome surprise on the Celtic TV broadcast team. But they almost came to blows, or so it seemed, in the post-game wrapup where they were discussing where players should play. So pick your fighter . . .

Me? Despite the in-depth analysis by both, I want Kelly Clark back on the air.

Moi Elyounoussi: Is he the real deal?

Thanks to a foot injury last season, we didn’t get to see a lot of Mohammed Elyounoussi. If Tuesday’s game was any indication, hopefully we will make up for lost time this season, as Moi gave a clinic on Tuesday, easily earning Man of the Match accolades. His first touch on his first goal was pretty remarkable, and he was all over the pitch for the rest of the 90+ minutes, scoring a second goal at the end of the game on a beautiful cross from Olivier Ntcham. If Elyounoussi plays at this level all season, Celtic will be even more unstoppable than they would normally be.

One more thing . . .

Looking at my notes written during the game — yes, I am geeky enough to do that — I made this note: 70 min CM saves corner, E scores. The CM in this case is Callum McGregor, who kept the ball in after Ryan Christie’s corner kick at the 7oth minute was cleared out by KR Reykjavik, and CalMac got the ball back into Edouard, who slalomed his way into the goal mouth and scored from close range. Like clockwork, game after game, CalMac always has a hand in Celtic’s success, sometimes in such minuscule ways that it slips under the radar. However, it always bears mentioning that his play, game in and game out, is a large part of the formula that is Celtic’s ongoing success.

Anyway, on to Saturday. Here we go again, we’re on the road again: Dundee United on Saturday at Tannadice.

141 days of starvation ends

The Huddle in a post-Covid world . . .

After a drought of 141 days of no games at Paradise, no one was happier to get up at Oh-My-God-Thirty in the morning Pacific Time and put on my jersey and scarf to watch Celtic play at home.

The Ross County preseason game on Sunday had its ups and downs, as we’ll discuss here, but overall the Hoops are fine-tuning their game for the upcoming season. With Neil Lennon letting the first team run for the full 90 minutes — Greg Taylor excluded (and we’ll definitely get to that later) — here are five takeaways from the Ross County game.

Mugging Odsonne Edouard

Already there are grumblings among some of the more . . . oh, let’s say . . . “restless” Celtic supporters that Odsonne Edouard is mailing it in and not trying. I would completely disagree here, primarily because opposing teams have now caught up on the strategy of swarming Edouard, triple- and even quadruple-teaming him. Clearly, one of the reasons 3-5-2 had worked so well last season is that Eddy was not alone up front. In France and against Ross County yesterday, who was alone up front? Edouard. How did that work? Not so great. Was Eddy mailing it in? Hell, no. Get a grip.

Bain worked for his clean sheet

One of the highlights of the game was the play of Scott Bain. While Ross County’s chances were few and far between, those that got through with a shot on goal were met with some quality goalkeeping, and none of them hit the inside of the net. Like Fraser Forster — who as of this writing, according to the rumour mill, may be making his way back (fingers crossed here) — when Celtic has the ball for the great majority of the game, percentage-wise, keeping goal becomes a game of keeping your head in the game. Forster was — is — a master at maintaining concentration, and Bain proved equal to the task on Sunday.

And on the other side . . .

Additionally, a hat-tip should also go to the Ross County goalkeeper, Celtic loanee Ross Doohan. Doohan couldn’t really do anything against the own-goal, but he made some spectacular saves as the game developed.

Kerr McInroy stepped up

When Greg Taylor went down to an ankle injury thanks to a yellow-card quality foul from Connor Randall — and remind me to include Randall in my list of “SPFL Players to Meet while Swinging My Louisville Slugger” — my first thought looking at the available subs was . . . Stephen Welsh? Maybe Luca Connell? No, Lenny was a few light years ahead of me. Kerr McInroy was slotted in and performed pretty well as Taylor’s sub. McInroy moved the ball well and at one point took a shot on goal that went off a Ross County player. He also made a sharp cross which, had someone been there to receive it, would surely have been a goal. Like Welsh last season, to see players like McInroy stepping up and doing well is a promising sign.

John Hartson in the booth

I like John Hartson a lot. I follow him religiously on social media, and I was looking forward to hearing his insights on the Celtic TV broadcast. Overall he gets high marks for his commentary on the game and at halftime. However, I thought he spent a little too much time scolding Jeremie Frimpong on his gaffe in the 2nd half which left a Ross County player alone with the ball in the box. As it turned out, crisis was averted and it amounted to nothing. I think that falls under the no harm/no foul category, but Hartson wouldn’t let it go. Again, this is preseason and hopefully Hartson will get some good broadcasting practice in before the start of the season.

Until tomorrow’s game against the Hibs, here we go again . . . .

12 Days of Christmas, Celtic style

[Or, what happens when you have too much eggnog on a slow and wintry Christmas Eve . . . ]

On the first day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
the European Cup trophy.

On the second day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

On the third day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me . . .

On the third day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Three Naka free kicks
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

On the fourth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Four Eddy goals
Three Naka free kicks
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

On the fifth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me . . .

On the fifth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Larsson, the king!
Four Eddy goals
Three Naka free kicks
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

On the sixth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Six Jozo spaceshots
Larsson, the king!
Four Eddy goals
Three Naka free kicks
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

On the seventh day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Seven goals at Hampden
Six Jozo spaceshots
Larsson, the king!
Four Eddy goals
Three Naka free kicks
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

On the eighth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me . . .

On the eighth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Scott Brown a-broonin’
Seven goals at Hampden
Six Jozo spaceshots
Larsson, the king!
Four Eddy goals
Three Naka free kicks
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

On the ninth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Nine Jinky netters
Scott Brown a-broonin’
Seven goals at Hampden
Six Jozo spaceshots
Larsson, the King!
Four Eddy goals
Three Naka free kicks
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

On the tenth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me . . .

On the tenth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Moussa’s big hat trick
Nine Jinky netters
Scott Brown a-broonin’
Seven goals at Hampden
Six Jozo spaceshots
Larsson, the King!
Four Eddy goals
Three Naka free kicks
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Eleven Lisbon Lions
Moussa’s big hat trick
Nine Jinky netters
Scott Brown a-broonin’
Seven goals at Hampden
Six Jozo spaceshots
Larsson, the King!
Four Eddy goals
Three Naka free kicks
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me
Twelve ballboys cheering
Eleven Lisbon Lions
Moussa’s big hat-trick
Nine Jinky netters
Scott Brown a-broonin’
Seven goals at Hampden
Six Jozo spaceshots
Larsson, the king!
Four Eddy goals
Three Naka free kicks
Hooper and Hartson
and the European Cup trophy.

. . . and the European Cup trophy.